Instead of comparing steak houses -- maybe next time, boss? -- I'm comparing gyms.
As a gym rat, I'm pumped. I checked out five different gyms. Four of them have locations across the state: Planet Fitness, Healthtrax, Golds Gym, and the YMCA. The fourth was a smaller gym in West Hartford called My Fitness Clinic.
What I found varied widely, not just in cost but also in atmosphere, amenities, and services.
First, I didn't pay to try out these gyms (and they didn't know I work in the media). All of the gyms offered a trial membership of at least a day so I could see whether I liked it.
I'd highly recommend you do the same. Fair or not, you can't help but to wonder what a gym that won't let you try before you by might be hiding.
In this article, I've examined the three big sticking points for many - overall atmosphere, costs, and contracts. I won't go into details about other offerings such as personal training, classes, tanning, shake bars, etc, simply because it varies not just from company to company but also from gym to gym.
Keep in mind when looking at costs that Healthtrax and the YMCA have many more amenities, such as pools, classes, saunas, and many other facilities in the buildings. Again, try before you buy - or for that matter rule these or any other gyms out.
Let's get started.
- Planet Fitness: A mixed crowd erring on the younger side, possibly because it's relatively inexpensive. The gym dubs itself "The Judgement Free Zone". I found some good and some bad with this. The good is that the gym is a relatively welcoming atmosphere with people of all shapes and sizes. The bad is that it's judgement free until you drop a weight a little too loudly. Or grunt at the end of a hard set. I kid you not when I tell you somebody set off what they call the "lunk alarm" after my second time grunting while leg pressing a fraction of a ton in weights. They actually threatened to kick me out. I think I was entitled to a grunt there. If you are the average gym enthusiast, it's not a bad gym.
- Healthtrax: Also a mixed crowd a little more on the older side, again possibly because of the cost. They seemed to have a super-friendly staff. There's always someone around to help with a machine or give you a spot. Bonus - they gave me some free coffee on the way out.
- Gold's Gym: This was definitely a much more intense gym. It had free weights going up to 120 lbs, and the biggest selection of weight and cardio equipment out of all of the gyms I checked out. The crowd tends to be young and much more hardcore about working out. With that said, the half of my time I wasn't working out, I was flirting.
- YMCA: A very family-friendly gym. Lots of supervision, very friendly people, and overall a positive workout experience. The selection of free weights was considerably smaller than the cardio equipment. There was a high focus among the staff here on overall health and wellness.
- My Fitness Clinic: It's West Hartford, so I thought it might be a big, elaborate gym. Not the case. This is definitely your suburban gym. Super friendly and incredibly knowledgeable staff, but a little too small for me. With that said, if you live in West Hartford - it's a nice alternative to some of the more expensive clubs.
Costs, as quoted to me at these locations:
- Planet Fitness: Two levels - regular or black memberships. The black card has no start up fee and is $19.99 per month. It lets you use all Planet Fitness locations and brings guests whenever you want. You also get some other bonuses such as unlimited tanning and 1/2 price drinks. Note: halfway through your contract you get hit with a $39 "annual rate guarantee". The regular membership will run you between $9.99 and $15.00 per month and does require a sign-up fee of up to $79.
- Healthtrax: Enrollment ranges from free to $49, depending on the gym. Monthly dues are $54 with a one year contract or $39 with a two year contract.
- Golds Gym: With a two-year contract, it's a $5 enrollment and $19.95/month. With a 1 year contract, it's $49 enrollment and $24.95/month. No contract is a $99 enrollment and $29.95/month.
- YMCA: $62 per month. Enrollment ranges from free to $79.
- My Fitness Clinic: $99 enrollment which will get you five free training sessions, then $39 a month. This gym was the most willing to work with me in terms of striking a deal.
- Planet Fitness: You have to sign a one year contract. READ this contract first. If you try and get out of it or drop from the black card to the lower level, they'll slap you with a big charge. The monthly dues are cheap, but it will seriously cost you to get out of this contract - and in my experience, the gym was very shady about these details.
- Healthtrax: You have to sign either a one or a two year contract. If you break it, it will cost you $150. But they tell me if I move or die (That's encouraging!), the breach of contract thing is negotiable.
- Gold's Gym: Unless you get sick and have a doctors note or move more than 25 miles away, it's a $175 early termination fee.
- YMCA: Free to cancel with 30 days notice.
- My Fitness Clinic: As with the YMCA, free to cancel with 30 days notice.
The Bottom Line
Every one of the gyms I went to offered me an immediate discount after me asking - some slashing the monthly fee in half. Other gyms offered to dump the enrollment fee. Two offered free personal training sessions. One offered free protein shakes and a half price massage.
One even gave me a coupon for an oil change for $14.99 (I'm assuming this is for my car, although I don't quite understand the connection).
Shopping for a gym is like hitting tag sales. Some of them have comparable workout equipment, and most all are willing to wheel and deal.